Hello, Adrian here, store manager at Northern Playground 👋
Since I started at the company, a discussion about plastic packaging has given me a bit of a stomachache. Partly due to the shame associated with a plastic bag, and partly because of disagreements on the topic in the office.
I've worked as a store manager for almost 10 years and am more accustomed to discussing the price of packaging. Now, I'm experiencing something entirely different, and as a fly on the wall and a newly hired employee in the company, it's been a roller coaster.
As I understand it, the whole situation started with the question of what type of packaging we should use for our larger products, namely jackets and pants.
- Definitely not plastic! stated one person.
- Agreed! responded the rest of the team.
So for some years now, pants and jackets have been wrapped in paper bags. But here, problems began. The paper bags turned out to be weak and couldn't handle transportation. The obvious solution was to create thicker, more robust paper bags.
Logistics expert Maja had thoughts on that:
- I have thoroughly researched this, and to make them stronger, we need to add a layer of silicone, which makes the bag non-recyclable. In addition, a thicker paper bag results in increased CO2 emissions, she pointed out.
- Okay, okay - is there no possibility of ditching packaging altogether? someone asked.
- Absolutely not! Many products would risk being damaged and dirty without packaging, she explained.
- What about bioplastic? Plastic made from plants that is biodegradable? we wondered.
- The problem with bioplastic is that it doesn't break down unless it is handled in an environment that meets specific requirements, which currently don't exist in Norway. Bioplastic must, therefore, be sorted as general waste and cannot be recycled.
As you can understand, it's genuinely challenging to figure out what the most environmentally friendly packaging is. There is no definitive answer, and many in the industry are trying to find alternatives to the polybag – the transparent plastic bag that the clothing industry uses billions of and that I'm familiar with from my years in the retail sector. Northern Playground has avoided it like the plague, both because it's made of oil-based, non-biodegradable material and because we believe it provides a poor customer experience.
But Maja challenged us:
- We can use recycled plastic. The footprint is minimal compared to everything else. In Norway, people are good at recycling plastic, so it doesn't end up in nature. Moreover, the bags are very strong, allowing the products to be shipped multiple times without changing packaging.
It was a difficult pill to swallow for some of us.
- What about the experience? Imagine buying such great products in natural materials and having them served in nasty plastic? Jorunn and Jo found it hard to envision.
Creative director Kristoffer spoke up:
- If recycled plastic has the least emissions, shouldn't we stay true to ourselves and actually endure that the customer doesn't like it? Isn't that a bit rebellious?
He had a point. And he continued:
- What if we clearly communicate that this is plastic and showcase the advantages and disadvantages of our choice? Let's just own the fact that we're stepping out of our comfort zone!
And that's how it ended up, eventually. See the image at the top.
The story above is, of course, simplified. The fact is, we still "discuss" vigorously among ourselves, and some of us feel shame. I admit that it hurts to deliver a wool fleece jacket wrapped in plastic to customers in the store.
What's certain is that we all must fight for an oil-free future. We are now partners in a packaging project led by the industry organization NF&TA, which will research the best solution. Let's hope we find something good! The hope must be to create systems where we reuse (not recycle) the packaging. Until then - dispose of the plastic in plastic waste or use it for something else!
FACTS AND DEEP-DIVE:
Challenges with the paper bags:
- The bags tore easily, so we mostly had to discard them after the first use.
- The closing mechanism only worked once, so once the bag was open, you couldn't close it again.
- It was difficult to see which products were in the paper bags. Therefore, we considered putting stickers on them, but then the challenge of recycling reappeared.
Our new packaging for products like Wool Fleece and the Last is made of 70% recycled plastic. The reason is that a minimum of 30% of the packaging must be made of virgin plastic for it to be recyclable. With 100% recycled plastic, the fibers become too short to be part of the recycling process and must be sorted as general waste.
The new packaging can also be used for wrapping repairs and reused for products lacking packaging.
Once in a while, one of the Northern Playground employees sends out a letter giving you an honest look behind the scenes of the company. We believe that transparency is an essential part of being a socially responsible company. This is the 28th letter. Read the other ones here.